The Election Commission’s (EC) letter to political parties seeking their views on pre-poll opinion polls has sparked off a war of words between major parties with the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) favouring a ban and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) opposing it. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) said opinion polls could be conducted but their results should be put on hold, while the CPI favoured a ban once the model code of conduct come into effect.

With most opinion polls forecasting a slight edge to the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh where elections will be held this month, the party on Monday said “only losers demand a ban”.

“When the trend of opinion polls is adverse to the political parties, they rubbish them. They start demanding a ban. The loser demands a ban and the potential winner wants them to continue. A ban on such polls can not be considered based on who is demanding the ban,” BJP leader Arun Jaitley said in an article circulated by the party on Monday.

While senior Congress leaders pitched for a ban on opinion polls on the ground that they lacked credibility and were prone to “manipulation”, the party officially maintained that it had only “endorsed” the EC’s suggestion for banning opinion polls.

The party had not approached the Commission for disallowing the trend-spotting exercise carried out before elections, spokesman Meem Afzal told journalists here.

He said the EC had written to all political parties on October 4, seeking their opinion on whether opinion polls should be banned and the party responded on November 4 endorsing the view. “An all party meeting was called by the EC on April 6, 2004, where it sought the views of political parties on whether the results of the exit polls should be declared before elections conclude. All parties had then unanimously agreed that the results of such polls should not be declared before the elections are over. Subsequently, an amendment was introduced in 2009 in Parliament banning the exit polls. The Commission recently wrote to the government on whether a similar restriction can be put on opinion polls,” explained Mr. Afzal.

He said the Commission had expressed reservation on the impact of opinion polls on the election outcome.

Seeking an outright ban on opinion polls for conduct of free and fair elections, BSP national general secretary Satish Misra sai, “No outside influence — such as an opinion poll — that may confuse the minds of electors and which is not based on a uniform criterion should be allowed by the EC.”

Referring to the EC’s letter of October 25 seeking views of parties on the issue, Mr. Misra said such polls should not be allowed to be published during elections as they do not and cannot reflect the correct opinion as they are conducted by different agencies and restricted to limited voters.

Speaking to The Hindu, CPI leader D. Raja said opinion polls should be banned once an election is notified so as to not influence the non-committed, neutral voter and to provide a level playing field.

Holding a similar view, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury said that several parties conduct opinion polls to judge their position but the results should not be published after the election process starts.

PTI quoted Nationalist Congress Party leader Tariq Anwar as saying that the party did not favour a ban on opinion polls ahead of elections but wanted a body like the Press Council to ensure they were not sponsored like paid news. “The party does not want a ban but at the same time it should be ensured that there are no sponsored opinion polls,” he said.